Sun, Jul 11, 2004 - Page 7 News List

Senate intelligence report offers support for claim Iraq sought African uranium

AP , WASHINGTON

A Senate report criticizing false CIA claims that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction at the same time provides support for an assertion the White House repudiated: that Iraq sought to buy uranium in Africa.

White House officials said last year it was a mistake for President George W. Bush, in his State of the Union message last year, to refer to British reports that former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein's government tried to buy uranium. The White House said the evidence for that claim was too shaky to have been included in such an important speech, and CIA Director George Tenet took the blame for failing to have the reference removed.

A report released Friday by the Senate Intelligence Committee offers new details backing the claim.

French and British intelligence separately told the US about possible Iraqi attempts to buy uranium in Niger, the report said. The report from France is significant not only because Paris opposed the Iraq war but also because Niger is a former French colony and French companies control uranium production there.

Joseph Wilson, a retired US diplomat the CIA sent to investigate the Niger story, also found evidence of Iraqi contacts with Nigerien

officials, the report said.

Wilson told the committee that Niger's former prime minister Ibrahim Mayaki reported meeting with Iraqi officials in 1999. Mayaki said a businessman helped set up the meeting, saying the Iraqis were interested in "expanding commercial relations" with Niger -- which Mayaki interpreted as an overture to buy uranium, Wilson said.

All of that information came to Washington long before an Italian journalist gave US officials copies of documents purporting to show an agreement from Niger to sell uranium to Baghdad. Those documents have been determined to be forgeries.

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